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One for the Road: Ode to the lowly

By Shadow

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I like to think that as bikers, we’re always prepared for anything while we’re on the road, and as such, most every rider I know has their favorite tools stowed somewhere on their bike. Of course that includes wrenches, sockets, screwdriver, spark plugs and the like, but most motorcyclists depend on smaller aids such as electrical tape, zip ties and mechanics’ wire. Over the years I’ve developed my own set of “helpers,” with one in particular standing (or, rather, stretching) head and shoulders above the rest. This particular item has saved my butt, or more accurately, my bike’s butt, more times than I can count.

Case in point: This past Saturday, I was riding my Switchback to the grand opening celebration for a local dealership when a guy in a pickup truck pulled up beside me, rolled down the window and yelled, “Your saddlebag is open!” I looked to the right—closed. The left hard bag, however, was completely open, parallel to the ground. I thanked the Good Samaritan and pulled off the road as soon as I could, berating myself for forgetting to fasten the bag before I left. I clicked it shut, got back on the road and not two miles later another guy pulled up beside me and yelled, “Your saddlebag is open!”

Well, I knew I’d closed it just a few minutes before, so I tried it again, this time testing it before I took off. I pulled it from the “fender side” and it popped open. Whut? I tried the other bag. That one took a little more force but it popped open the same way. Out from one of the bags came a set of bungee cords which I wrapped around the bags to prevent the lids from opening, and I made it to the dealership without further incident.

Unlike most bikers, I actually don’t use bungee cords for packing my gear—I use ROK straps, which work better for me because of their ease of adjustability and looped fastening system. Also, if a bungee cord accidentally lets loose, which they often do, you could lose an eye. And once the coating wears off the hooks, they’ll scratch through your bike’s paint. But it’s the bungee cord I turn to for emergencies where I need to keep actual bike parts fastened. After all, bungee cords, also called shock cords, have a distinguished and important history dating back at least a hundred years when they were utilized for pre-World War I aircraft suspension when weight was a big issue, as well as their use to assist with opening parachutes. Some mission-critical stuff here, to be sure.

To the amusement of my riding partners, I usually stow at least three sets in my saddlebags. I even have an octopus strap—a contraption that has four bungee cords attached to a ring in the middle, great for holding down unevenly-shaped, ungainly objects. Where do I store all these bungees when they’re not on my bikes? Well, for years, I kept buying them and losing them to cellar clutter. One day my partner organized all the bungee cords I owned, arranging each pair, sorted by length, on the end of an overhead shelf. There must be 30 bungees hanging there at any given time, but at least now they’re easy to find.

And there are good reasons why I carry so many. Thunder Press South Editor Robert Filla reminded me that the saddlebags on old Shovelheads were notoriously dysfunctional, and it was more common than not to see a set of bungee cords wrapped around the bags to keep the lids from sailing away and your stuff from flying out. And one of my riding buddies told me that he used to strap his girlfriend to the sissy bar so she didn’t fall off. He also said that relationship didn’t last very long. But believe it or not, there are actually products marketed that do the same thing… and they cost a lot more than a bungee cord.

I once had a set of leather saddlebags on my FXD that didn’t want to stay mounted, so until I got a new arrangement, I’d wrap bungee cords around the bags, looping each cord between the fender strut and saddlebag mount. There have been times when some item or another packed onto the back of my bike began to sag, so just wrapping a bungee cord completely around the offending object and the sissy bar took care of the problem. And there’s always the unexpected purchase that needs to be transported with nowhere to attach it but the rear fender. Keeping things up and out of the way when I’m working on something, holding doors open… there are so many uses for this $2 item.

While I was at the dealership open house, I asked one of the service guys if he knew why the lids wouldn’t stay closed. He came outside, tested them, and then fastened them in a way that they wouldn’t accidentally open. I had to open them one more time before I left, and tried to refasten them in the same way, testing the lids, which seemed secure, so I headed home. Halfway through my journey I looked back and there was the left lid, flapping in the breeze. Annoyed and not wanting to waste any more time on the misbehaving bag, I flipped it closed without pulling over and just kept my left hand on top of the lid so it didn’t fly open again. Fact: you can shift without using the clutch lever if you time it right. Crude, and not recommended, but it works.

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